One foot into football season

Photo by Ramon Scott. Monte Vista senior defensive end Sebastian Valdez

Things are going to get a bit more intriguing in the Grossmont Valley League this football season.

After the departure via graduation of a pair of players headed to Division I programs, as well as five other All-East County first-team performers, will the defending champion Monte Vista Monarchs come back to the “Pack” in the Valley circuit?

Not only are the West Hills Wolf Pack, which finished second to the Monarchs last season, ready to stake their claim to a possible league title, pass-happy upstarts Mount Miguel and Santana also have to feel their chances are enhanced after their record-setting seasons on the offensive side of the ball in 2018.

The GVL banner could be decided on the final night of the regular season when Monte Vista visits the Pack in west Santee; however, the four main contenders can all point to their potential for success in 2019.

Will the Monarchs see a drop-off?

Last November, Monte Vista won a league title for the first time in 14 years by shutting out the Wolf Pack in the regular-season finale in Spring Valley to finish 4-0 in the GVL.

The Monarchs have been led for the last two seasons by running back Jahmon McClendon, East County’s all-time leading rusher, who has moved on UCLA and is already starting to move up the depth chart at power back.

But veteran county coaching legend Ron Hamamoto still has his squad poised as league favorites with Montana State-bound senior defensive end Sebastian Valdez and senior linebacker Logan Schmidt, the younger brother of league defensive player of the year Blake Schmidt, who already landed at Montana State.

The philosophy of the Monarchs is unlikely to change, although more players are likely to touch the ball this season after two years of McClendon’s dominance in the run game.

Monte Vista is dealing from a position of strength in the trenches, including senior lineament Jared Reinholdt, Manny Levi, Angel Villanueva and Ron Barry.

The man expected to get a majority of the backfield touches is senior Isaiah Gardner. The Monarchs had a few quarterbacks during McClendon’s term but this year, senior Ruben Silva appears to have earned the job as the starter.

While the Monarchs are still considered the favorites in the league title chase, their road to a section title will be more difficult to come by in Division II. After being ousted in the D3 playoff opener last season, Monte Vista will need to avoid being upset during the regular season or they could miss the postseason.

Can the Wolf Pack close the gap?

West Hills was toe-to-toe with Monte Vista through the first quarter of their championship showdown before the Monarchs went on to win 35-0.

The Wolf Pack loses a great leader at quarterback but has one of the area’s top local returnees in senior Jake Maheu.

Maheu is already a top-notch linebacker and will be asked to carry much of the load on offense this year, as well. Maheu registered four sacks and rushed for 400 yards last season.

West Hills is still in the process of determining which of two quarterbacks may get the most reps but once one or both settle in, skill players Kole Klingerman (four TD receptions in 2018) and Steven Cristini (500 all-purpose yards in 2018) are sure-handed experienced targets.

Wolf Pack seniors Austin Ruiz-Castaneda and Josh Alagata both had three sacks last year, while Kip Klingerman and Adrian Irby lead an experienced secondary, as the defense, which had a good season last year, figures to be even better in 2019.

Matadors’ stock continues to rise

Mount Miguel is coming off one of its most productive ever on the offensive side of the football.

It didn’t take but the first season for coach Troy Starr to begin to give the Matadors a new identity.

Quarterback J.D. Laverdiere finished the season with eight-straight games of 250-plus passing yards, finishing with nearly 3,000 yards through the air with 27 touchdowns. And that was as a sophomore.

He’ll be joined by returning senior receivers Jaheim Allen-Pompey and Dominic Morales.

The senior-lead defense will be headed up by linebackers Ulices Monje and Mike Medina, along with safety Pat Chima.

Keeping up with the Sultans

The Santana Sultans turned in their own record-setting offensive performances last season, the likes of which have never been seen in the San Diego Section.

Most notably was the Sultans’ 76-55 San Diego CIF Division IV playoff victory over visiting La Jolla Country Day in the highest-scoring game in section history.

Santana quarterback Nathan Temple, sidelined most of the season with a broken collarbone, passed for school records of 532 yards and seven touchdowns in the wild win. Temple will be a senior this season.

The Sultans figure to have their record-setting receiver Randall Smith return for his senior season. Smith caught a school-record 13 passes for 355 yards and five touchdowns in that wild game.

Other seniors expected to return include running back Brooks Moutaw, linebacker Cameron Lariccia, and lineman Luke Simanek. Junior Jared Forster should also return after a solid 2018 breakthrough.

Returning Braves building

El Cajon Valley can and should make progress following a winless 2018 season with exceptional skill players returning in juniors Clarence Johnson and Damarius Hyde.

Senior linebacker Mario Jacobs is a terrific representative of what it means to be a Brave. The exceptional student-athlete is a leader on and off the field.

Junior quarterback Joe Malone has grown into the starting role and is protected upfront by two-way linemen Ke’von White, a senior, and Wendall Walcott, a junior.